Panera needs to put the chicken filet down and step away from the brioche buns. On March 30, the fast-casual restaurant chain entered the chicken sandwich game with two new menu items. Both offerings carry a premium price tag that the company itself acknowledged is “slightly pricier than others on the market.”
Panera is advertising an already expensive $11 price tag per sandwich, and here in Chicago it was bumped up to $12.99 a piece. At $25.98 before even delivery, tip, and tax, ordering both for delivery to the office was an expensive choice, but I do this all in the name of honest journalism.
Initially, the packaging of the sandwiches showed some promise. Both came in small cardboard boxes with a tab in the center that once you ripped off would reveal the top of the sandwich. This creates a convenient carrying case for the sandwich to be held in, especially if you’re on the go. Unfortunately, what was revealed beneath this clever packaging was not as impressive. The two new Chef’s Chicken Sandwiches are a unique attempt at being part of the current trend, but I have some bones to pick about these pricey offerings.
I had much higher hopes for the “Signature Take’’ because as described by Panera, it includes a chicken filet with a garlic aioli made out of white wine, garlic, “secret” spices, and extra virgin olive oil, topped with parmesan crisps and leafy greens, all on a buttery brioche bun. I’m not sure whether to be thankful or not that the parmesan crisps were included.
The crisps on their own were perfectly fine, but within the sandwich they didn’t provide a lot, much less any sort of “crisp.” The same can be said for the garlic aioli which only added a very light tang if anything at all. The issue with the sauce could also be attributed to the fact that there was hardly any and the leafy greens were so overwhelming that it felt more like I took a bite of a salad with some chicken in it.
The overall problem with this particular sandwich was that the ingredients are a bunch of items that sounds like they would pair well together but actually don’t combine at all. Each ingredient felt separated and out of place between the brioche buns.
The “Spicy Take” is described by Panera as consisting of a chicken filet with buffalo sauce “made with aged red cayenne pepper and roasted garlic balanced with subtle notes of sweet honey and molasses,” topped with spicy cucumber crisps under a brioche bun.
The first hiccup here was that Panera’s sandwich makers forgot the spicy cucumber crisps. However, I don’t think they would have saved the sandwich. I’m not a big fan of spicy foods, but even I think this “Spicy Take” lacked even a hint of heat. I’ve never bitten into anything topped with buffalo sauce that had no bite whatsoever. This was just odd.
The entire sandwich itself had a chewy consistency and when I bit into it I noticed the meat had a darker color. I wonder if this was purposefully a dark meat sandwich or if this filet just got some extra unintended cook time. Regardless, the entire thing lacked spice and crispness which is something I’ve come to expect in most chicken sandwiches.
Neither one of these sandwiches can justify its cost. Unfortunately, Panera threw two hats in the game and neither was a champion. Normally, I’m all for trying new things and getting creative, but in this case I have to say that Panera should stick with what its best at—a good ole fashioned bread bowl.